Bolivia – Salt Flats Tour
Our journey has now taken us to the world’s largest salt flats deep in the southern Andes of Bolivia. This region is the epitome of breathtaking sights. There’s everything from hot springs to colored lagoons to petrified coral. There’s even a forest made of humongous, salt grown cactuses!
Yearning for the full experience Alan and I splurged on an all-inclusive three-day tour. I couldn’t chance missing out on anything.
At the start of the tour everyone was divided into small groups of six. There are so many different companies that you can choose from while you are in the small desolate town of Uyuni. I would highly recommend going with the company that we chose; which was Esmeralda Tours. We were lucky enough to be paired with Emilio (as our tour guide), a peppy girl from Mexico, a couple from Switzerland, and another young traveler all the way from Japan. We became so close over the course of the next three days that it made it difficult to say goodbye.
All Aboard! First stop is a quick trip just 1.9 miles outside of the city center to the train graveyard. Exactly as it sounds, this is the designated resting place for Bolivia’s unneeded, abandoned locomotives. Some dating all the way back to the early 19th century!When we finished climbing on the abandoned steel giants we all got back into our decked out Land Cruiser and headed deep into the barren desert. We came to a stop in the smallest town I’ve ever seen. With a population of approximately 600, Colchani is a small world to drive into. There’s one street surrounded by tons of scattered pyramids of salt, waiting to be harvested.
Interesting fact: the only salt-making facilities using salt from the Salar de Uyuni are located in Colchani, and they are a cooperative joint-owned by all salt workers.For a little town, it had a lot to offer. What amazed me most was getting to explore the exotic Hotel de Sal Luna (Museo). This handcrafted mansion is built entirely with salt: walls, floors, ceilings, furniture, sculptures … everything!
After the Museo we hopped back into the Land Cruiser once again and headed to check out the “Ojos del Salar,” which translates to the eyes of the salt and is the only place that air seeps through the salt water, their in that area. Once we finished there, we headed to take some of the infamous fun pictures you see of the salt flats of dinosaurs and many more creative ideas. We had so much taking these pictures, though sometimes they weren’t as successful we made them work! To get to our lunch destination we journeyed through more of the salt flats until we reached this huge rock that was made for Dakar Rally races which they have every year for amateur sport enthusiasts. So of course we had to get some pictures there and then we walked to our destination that was surrounded by flags from all over the world. The flags were strung together in unison. We think that people must bring their own countries’ flag and hang them there to flap in the wind proudly. Finding the Mexico flag and Puerto Rico flag hanging next to each other made me even happier.
When we finally pulled ourselves away, there was a lovely prepared meal awaiting us. The food was divine, scenery to die for, and to top it all off the restaurant had so much character. Even the table and chairs were made out of salt!
After our lunch we headed to a cacti forest that led to a secluded salt island, Isla Incahuasi. We roamed through the petrified corals, giant cactuses, and desert weather crafted rock formations. Who knows how long we marveled at the alien like landscape. It was so beautiful to see this island that is in the middle of a sea of white salt with mountains in the far horizon.
Next, we drove out in the middle of the salt flats where no one else was to take the famous perspective pictures. The thin line of water on top of the salt creates a mirror like effect, reflecting everything from the glorious clouds in the sky to the people standing on the salt. Locally named God’s mirror, I couldn’t agree more. This was by far my favorite day of our trip. The pictures we took and memories we made will last a lifetime. Alan and I (well mostly Alan) got a good amount of sun during from the glass like salt lake. I’m sure you’ll notice in our pictures. The pictures we got are so beautiful. We also ended up staying there for a couple hours waiting for the sun to set to get some amazing pictures. The colors on one side of the sky turned from cotton candy and on the other side you had an array of colors of oranges and yellows. Delightfully exhausted we arrived at our accommodation in San Juan, Bolivia’s capital. There was salt everywhere, even in the bedrooms! I fell in love with the place. It had so much character! On top of everything they provided dinner and breakfast, and even offered a hot shower for only 10 bolivianos ($1.45).
For the next two days breathtaking moments kept building. Our next stop was a semi-active volcano, Volcan Ollague, and shortly after that we made it to the Arbol de Piedra, (the stone tree), which is an eroded rock formed by the strong desert winds, centuries of gentle rainfall, and volcanic rock. We also made stops at a green lake and took some pictures there as well and then we stopped to have a nice lunch.
Arriving to the majestic colored lagoon located in the National Park called Reserva Eduardo Abaroa felt like I had landed on another planet. At the foot of the several mountains and volcanoes, lagoons formed, and collected minerals in the process that resulted in beautiful, vivid colors; from scarlet red, to bleach white, intense blues and greens, etc. Boy, what a magical place! And to top it off we saw flamingoes, vicuñas (which look like tan shorthaired llamas) and even a little fox!For the grand finale we got to experience geysers in an area called the Sol de Mañana (Morning Sun). Our first time ever seeing them, we had left our resting place super early in the morning around 4 am. So the sun wasn’t even out just yet, but after we saw the first geyser we made our way down the road to check out more of them, just as the sun was rising, in time for more pictures 🙂 Also, there were pools full of bubbling grayish mud; which bubbled at 200ºc (392º F = super hot!) along with a sulfur smelling vapor spewing into the air, and boy was it super cold there!
Our next leg of the journey was a stop for a dip in the Bolivian hot springs. With how cold it was outside and the atmosphere around us, Alan and I opted out – we figured we will save that experience for when we travel to Thailand 😉 Luckily, we were only there for about 45 minutes. Once everyone else was ready we headed on our way, when we spotted a great place to stop to take some pictures near beautiful mountains. Then we headed to the last lagoon of the trip, the blanca lagoon (the white lake). Though the lagoon wasn’t really white it sure was pretty. Lastly, we headed to the border and that’s when we said our goodbyes as everyone went on their own way. Our next destination, Santiago Chile!
Alan and I have never experienced a tour like this and would highly recommend it to everyone, these memories will last forever 🙂
“Investment in travel is an investment in yourself.” -Matthew Karsten